The study of regional dialects is a niche area for researchers interested in aspects of anthropology, language, sociology and cultural studies. In those situations where the number of speakers of a particular dialect are dwindling, the challenge is to find out as much as possible about the language before it dies out. In 2014, one such endangered dialect was the subject of a study supported by Spiro Latsis and his family through the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation.
The study is entitled ‘Before the flame goes out: documentation of the Yevanic dialect,’ focusing on the Yevanic/Romaniote dialect of Greek Hebrews. The project team comprises Evangelia Vlachou, Chrysoula Papdopoulou and Georgios Kotzoglou – all three of whom are from the University of the Aegean. The dialect itself is confined to pockets of speakers in Chalkida, Ioannina and New York and there is very little in the way of academic research on the grammar of Yevanic. The study aims to build up a basic corpus of oral texts based upon interviewing members of the three geographical groupings of Yevanic speakers. Through linguistic analysis, it is hoped that the research will lead to the publication of the first ever grammar guide to this language.
Athens-born Spiro John Latsis is himself no stranger to academic research, having earned a doctorate in Philosophy in 1974 and later becoming a member of the Board of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton. The funding of academic projects is something the Foundation has been involved in since 2008 when its supervisory board, comprising of Henrietta Latsis, Spiro Latsis, Marianna Latsis and Margarita Latsis launched an initiative to advance Greek research activities. The Foundation itself was formed to honour the memory and continue the legacy of public works started by the family patriarch, John S. Latsis.
The Yevanic study is one of seven humanities and social science projects that were awarded funding through the Foundation in 2014. These projects cover a diverse subject range – from the willingness of consumers to pay extra for farm produce to ensure fair working conditions for agricultural workers – through to the politics of discrimination. A further 12 projects in engineering, physical and life sciences also received funding.